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Eyes on the Prize
The Story of the Movement — 26 Events

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The Nation of Islam and Malcolm X

1964-1966

"If you live in a society... and it doesn't enforce its own law because of the color of a man's skin... then... people are justified to resort to any means necessary to bring about justice..."
—Malcolm X, Nation of Islam spokesman

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The Nation of Islam, a religious organization, provokes controversy while promoting black pride and self-reliance. The group establishes local temples, teaches Muslim beliefs, creates black businesses and schools, and rehabilitates many convicts and former drug addicts. In 1963, Malcolm X becomes the group's national spokesman. His message of black pride, self-sufficiency, and self-defense stands in stark contrast to the Civil Rights Movement's non-violence. It also threatens whites. As Malcolm X becomes nationally known, his words inspire many blacks, but as he gains power, his relationship with the Nation of Islam deteriorates. In February 1965, members of the Nation of Islam assassinate him in Harlem.

Malcolm X's philosophy survives, especially among younger civil rights workers. In 1965, Stokely Carmichael and SNCC mount a voter registration drive in Lowndes County, Alabama. In the 80% black county there are no black public officials, and blacks have been denied the vote. The group forms a new party, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, and takes as its symbol a black panther. On May 3, 1966, the county's black residents vote for the first time since Reconstruction. Soon afterward, Stokely Carmichael takes over from John Lewis as SNCC's national chairman.

The following month, James Meredith, who made plenty of enemies when he integrated the University of Mississippi in 1963, begins a solo March Against Fear through Tennessee and Mississippi. On the second day, he is shot and wounded. Civil rights leaders take up the march, and conflict emerges between Martin Luther King, who intends to proceed peacefully, and Stokely Carmichael, who would prefer to resist hostile state troopers. Partway through the march, to King's and many others' dismay, SNCC rallies crowds with a new slogan that will quickly take center stage: "Black Power!"

Context

Other Events: Late 1965

The Watts riots in an impoverished black neighborhood in Los Angeles lead to 34 deaths and 4,000 arrests.

Andy Warhol unveils his paintings of Campbell's Tomato Soup cans.

Congress passes the Clean Air Act, and also establishes Medicaid.

Ralph Nader publishes Unsafe at Any Speed, an expose of problems with automobile safety.

Activist Cesar Chavez leads a strike against grape growers to protest the harsh working conditions and low wages of migrant workers, leading many to boycott the industry.

By the end of the year, the U.S. has some 200,000 troops in Vietnam.

Press

The Los Angeles Times, February 22, 1965

Hatred for Whites Obsessed Malcolm X

...The son of a Baptist preacher, Malcolm passed through a meager education, a succession of menial jobs and a relatively profitable life of crime before a long prison term started him on the road to becoming on of the most controversial men in black nationalist leadership circles....

...Malcolm's dislike for the white race was formed early in life.

"My father was the color of this," he once recalled, pointing to his black shoes, "and my mother, whose mother was raped by a white man, was light enough to pass for white. I hate every drop of white blood in me because it is the blood of a rapist."...

The New York Times, February 22, 1965

Rights Leaders Decry "Violence"
Wilkins and Others Shocked by Murder of Malcolm

...Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that the "gunning down" of Malcolm was a "shocking and ghastly demonstration of the futility of resorting to violence as a means of settling differences."

"Violence is not the answer to disputes," he continued, "either between warring factions within a group or between groups in the large society."

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said in a statement that "we must face the tragic fact that Malcolm X was murdered by a morally inclement climate."

"It revealed that our society is still sick enough to express dissent through murder," he added. "We have not learned to disagree without being violently disagreeable. This vicious assassination should cause our whole society to see that violence and hatred are evil forces that must be cast into unending limbo."..

...Efforts to reach Malcolm's brother, Wilfred X in Detroit, were unavailing. Wilfred heads Mohammed Mosque Number 1, a Black Muslim temple.

At his home, a woman said Wilfred was not at home. She said he had not gone to New York, and she did not think he planned to...

...Cecil B. Moore, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., said he had known Malcolm since 1957 and had found him to be "sincere, dedicated and fearless as well as personally honest."

"I do not think," he said, "that he was as bitter as some people thought."

The New York Times, February 27, 1965

Letter to the Editor: Death of Malcolm X

...Malcolm X warned us again and again that if we do not answer to the reason of the Negro's terrible frustration, then we must answer to its fury, and force a far bloodier revolution than any of us want -- sooner than most of us would care to believe if we believe at all. His death as it came confirms the truth of his warning.

He was a truthful and sincere man of great goodwill. He was assassinated not because he was a violent man but because he longed for peace and believed it could only come when men were honest with each other...

James Loomis
Brooklyn, Feb. 22, 1965

The Los Angeles Times, February 25, 1965

There's Deep Irony in the Place Where Malcolm X Met His Death

By Paul Coates

...He was a strange, sick man deeply infected by the disease of hate...

...But perhaps his death may yet serve a useful purpose. By the nature of its violence it could, hopefully, bring about the downfall of the whole vicious Black Muslim and Black Nationalist movement in our country...

...Their concept of separate "black states" within the United States was too absurd for any serious consideration. It was a pitch for picking up nickel and dime contributions from the frustrated, but gullible, victims of bigotry. And as long as they merely preached it on street corners, nobody got too upset.

Now that they've employed assassination and terrorism, I think there will be a public clamor to break them up...

...And there's some small irony in the fact that Malcolm X was killed as he was getting ready to preach "separatism" in a building which long years ago had broken down racial barriers.

Video

The Nation of Islam and Malcolm X
Duration: 8:20 min
Watch the Video

These clips alternate between interviews of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

In the first, King promotes non-violence.

In the second, Malcolm X argues that blacks have the right to defend themselves.

King then insists that non-violence does not mean non-resistance.

Malcolm X speaks of a coming elimination of whites by God.

King concludes the clips by saying violence is both impractical and immoral.

Footage provided by BBC MOTION GALLERY and courtesy of the WGBH Media Library and Archives.

Select an image to open the gallery.

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